Throughout Shakespeare’s play Love’s Labour’s Lost, each of the male royals transition from being naïve boys to wise men. Their experiences with the women in the play allow the men to observe their problems and inexperience. This then allows them to act upon it. Shakespeare indirectly discusses the difference in behavior between the men and women, especially when it comes to the maturity they carry when interacting with the opposite sex. The women seem to be more sophisticated and experienced than the men; the fact that they thought they could last three years without contact with females is unmindful in itself. It is interesting that the play begins with the men swearing off women and in the end, the men are running after the women in hopes to win them over forever.
The men in this play are young and determined. With references to Hercules, each man is striving to be intelligent, strong, and respectable men. Armado asks “What great men have been in love?” and when Mote responds with “Hercules” it is decided that that is whom they will strive for: “Most sweet, Hercules! More authority, dear boy, name more; and, sweet my child, let them be men of good repute and carriage” (LLL I.ii.65). Their ambitious idea to start an academy is the beginning of their transition. Their decision to swear off food, sleep, and women was the first step to realizing their innocence. It is interesting that the King and his Lords believe that this academy will aid them in reaching Hercules status. They are not wrong in thinking that being educated and strong will win over the women. Maria says that “a man of sovereign parts he is esteemed, well fitted in arts, glorious in arms. Nothing becomes him ill that he would well” (LLL II.i.45). Simultaneously, it is interesting that they believe they can easily follow all three of these rules.
It seems as if there is a competition between the men and women in this play. The battle starts with the males swearing off females. The tables turn when the women arrive and the men begin to realize maybe their original idea was not an easy one. Love letters are written by the males and the plot takes a turn when Costard switches up which letter is supposed to go to which woman. After all the chaos and back and forth flirting, it is ironic that the women tell their men that if they really do love them, the men will live in solitude for a year. The men tricked themselves into the chaos they became a part of and in return for their naivety, they are kept waiting.
When reading the play, it was questionable if the women really did love the men. It is clear that they notice their immaturity so why would they fall for that type of man? When the Princess of France tells each of the men to return in a year’s time, it seems as if the women are making a statement and hinting that they are in control. The Princess states that “only for praise, and praise we may afford to any lady that subdues a lord” (LLL IV.i.39) knowing that she and the other women need to conquer their men in order to call them their lovers. If the women really were madly in love with the men, would it be necessary to send them away for a year? In this scene, Shakespeare gives the women power and a mature demeanor.
It appears that Shakespeare is challenging how stereotypical gender roles are defined throughout Love’s Labour’s Lost. He begins the play by being condescending towards the King and his Lords and the goals they hope to achieve through the academy. The men are confident they can reach Hercules’ status from the start. Tables turn throughout the play when the women come into the picture. They have their priorities straight and seem to be experienced and wise when it comes to their love lives. The men fall into the females’ demeanor and make adjustments to their original goals; perhaps Hercules did interact with women. To the reader, it is intriguing to watch the King and the Lord’s transition from being naïve to becoming wiser, though they never quite reach full intelligence.